The story that will make the biggest splash may not have been the most disheartening news out of Iraq in the last week or so.
Not that it wasn’t disheartening to learn that some 380 tons of conventional explosives — perhaps more destructive than the chemical and biological substances usually lumped into the inexact “weapons of mass destruction” category — have simply disappeared from the Al Qaqaa military facility that was supposed to be under American control.
The facility contained explosives that can be used to detonate nuclear weapons (though other components of nukes are more difficult to acquire).
In a way, as Marina Ottaway, of the Democracy Project at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, said, this is an old story. This was one of many ammunition dumps not secured after the invasion of Iraq in March 2003. Looting apparently began in May 2003. Thus explosives capable of untold destruction are now on the international black market.
The failure to guard these explosives reflects “monumental incompetence” by the Bush administration, according to Ted Carpenter, director of defense and foreign policy studies at the libertarian Cato Institute. Not only were the facilities left unguarded — which reflects too few troops on the ground thanks to unwarranted optimism — but the United States seems to have covered up the problem instead of dealing with it.
And yet the looting of those explosives may not be the worst story from Iraq this week. The execution-style slaying of 50 Iraqi soldiers on their way home after a training session — unarmed and in civilian clothes — suggests that the new Iraqi military has been thoroughly infiltrated by insurgents. And as Carpenter pointed out, “the fact that they were unarmed in that hostile environment suggests a serious lack of realism on the part of U.S. authorities.”
Ottaway believes that another report last week, that 50,000 of the 91,000 Iraqis who had begun training for police and military duties have been dismissed upon further background checks, suggests that the process of preparing for Iraqis to handle security in their own country is in even worse shape than many had believed.
Then there’s a poll of Iraqis by the International Republican Institute. Although four of five Iraqis say they plan to vote in the January election, every section of the country thinks things have gotten worse in the last few months and the popularity of the Allawi government has declined from 66 percent to 43 percent.
While good things are no doubt being done, to say the recent news from Iraq is disheartening is probably an understatement.